Public safety is necessary for keeping our communities safe. Choosing a career in public safety means you will be working to make sure everyone feels safe and protected. Public safety officers protect some of the most vulnerable members of our communities.
Public safety experience can open up many doors of opportunity throughout a person’s career. Many people switch occupations as they gain experience and get older.
Public safety jobs are in high demand
There is a major shortage of workers in the public safety sector, which means if you choose a career in public safety, you will enjoy excellent job security. Many police departments actively recruit officers and advertise across a broad geographic area. There was a time when you did not see departments buying billboard advertising space on major highways to attract applicants.
Public safety jobs offer excellent benefits
Public safety officer salaries vary significantly based on location and the exact position you are hired for, but all positions tend to have excellent health insurance and retirement benefits. Some departments offer more lucrative compensation and benefits packages due to the shortage of officers and the trouble they have filling vacancies in their area.
You have a lot of choices where you work if you are willing to relocate
With so many departments having trouble filling vacancies, those that would like to relocate with a great new job should consider public safety. However, it is wise to compare the cost of living versus the salary at various locations before making a final job decision or even applying.
The ease of the job is another factor. Some departments that are not so easy or considered safe to work in may offer a higher salary, but you need to be honest with yourself if you want to work in a high-crime area right out of training.
You are highly motivated and willing to work odd hours
Public safety demands that you are able to motivate yourself and others to do a great job and keep going even when the job becomes highly demanding. Public safety jobs can involve working odd hours. If you thrive working at different times throughout the day and night or even prefer later shifts, then public safety may be a good fit. That is not to say that some jobs do not stick to a traditional work schedule. You must be clear about shift expectations before committing to a position, especially if you have childcare needs.
Solving problems comes naturally to you and is something you enjoy
A lot of what public safety officials do is solve problems. Sometimes, these problems may seem trivial to you but quite serious to the people experiencing them. Other times the problem may be much more complex and serious, so it takes a lot of time to solve.
If you like to solve problems and are great at negotiating between all types of people or, at the very least, excited to learn and get better at it, then you would be a great asset in any department or security firm.
Higher-level positions, such as detectives and investigators, utilize problem-solving skills and negotiation even more than others. Starting in a lower-ranking position and honing these skills makes for the best detectives and negotiators.
Teamwork is second nature to you
Working on a team is required in public safety. Despite what popular novels and shows might glamorize, the lone wolf solving crimes is not a reality. You may be paired with many different people on projects or cases.
Teamwork gets the job done faster and reduces jealousy and competitiveness, which can interfere with helping others and solving problems efficiently, in the workplace.
Those that show they thrive in a team environment have a distinct advantage when it comes time for raises and promotions.
You work well under stress and pressure
While there is plenty of time spent on less stressful tasks, there is no question that some very stressful and intense moments can happen if you pursue a career in public safety. You may be exposed to some intense emotions from the people around you.
There may be a lot of pressure to get something done, or you may have to give more serious help than it first seemed, or a situation may escalate despite attempts to resolve it.
Officers need to be able to handle very stressful days. Some positions may require being on call as a backup at all hours if a serious situation arises.
How do I become a public safety officer?
There are different ways to become a public safety officer. Earning a degree in public safety is an excellent way to stand out and fast-track your career. Those with public safety or criminology degrees often start with a better salary than those without. Having an actual professional degree also means you are more likely to be promoted faster.
That being said, there are a few fast-track programs that allow for entry-level job placement, but again, the salary is not the same and there are far fewer opportunities and options.
Public safety degrees can be earned online while working another job. This means you can retrain for a new and better-paying career while still earning. Laurier University offers an Online Master of Public Safety program, and you do not necessarily have to have an undergraduate degree in a public safety-related field to be able to enroll in it.
Officers must pass a stringent background check and drug test
If you want to work in public safety, you will need to pass a serious background check. While a few traffic tickets may not hurt your chances, felony convictions can. All officers are subject to drug testing. Some departments may conduct random tests. Regardless, you need to lead a fairly clean lifestyle to be an officer.
Character traits and key skills of good public safety officers
- Dedication to helping others
Public safety officers don’t just go around busting criminals. They are integral parts of a community. They are there to help people in a variety of situations, from unlocking cars when someone forgets their keys inside to responding to suspicious activity.
Departments are often involved with community events and various charities in an area. They connect with business owners, families, and community leaders, and work with them to create a stronger and safer community.
- A strong sense of justice for all
Working in public safety means interacting with people from many different backgrounds, so officers need to have a fair and balanced view of justice. This means giving everyone the same treatment and not being overly judgmental.
Officers must have an exceptional understanding of the judicial system and respect its hierarchy and rules. There is no room for special treatment.
- Strong emotional intelligence and resilience
Working in public safety means dealing with some difficult and emotionally charged situations. Some people are not a good fit for public safety because they cannot learn to compartmentalize their work and home life.
Officers must be able to keep calm and composed even when someone is being very rude, violent, or disorderly. People involved at all levels of a call may lash out in some way because everyone has different ways of dealing with emotionally charged situations.
- Great organization skills
Being disorganized can cause a lot of trouble in a public safety job. There is a lot more to staying organized than keeping your workspace clutter-free. It is important to know how your superiors expect things to be organized and make an effort to meet or exceed these expectations.
It may take some time to get well organized at a new job, especially if you are taking over a position from someone who wasn’t great at it.
- Good people skills
Most days as a public safety officer you will have to interact with a lot of other people. Even if you are generally good around people and working with others, you should make an effort to learn as much as you can about the community in which you work. If you relocate, it pays to do a little background research so you can be as culturally aware as possible and more likely to form fast connections.
Alternative career options for public safety professionals
With a background or degree in public safety, you can qualify for positions beyond being a police officer. Here are a few other options open to you.
- Private security guard
Many companies employ former police officers as private security guards. Some officers even earn extra money by working as private security when not on duty. There may be some rules regarding this, so it is always good to check and ensure you can work privately. Security guards may be employed by housing developments, malls, and other private businesses as well.
More and more private citizens are hiring security guards as well. For those with business savvy and good organizational skills, it may be possible to start a private security company in some areas.
- Self-defense or personal safety instructor
There may be some demand for instructors that can teach citizens self-defense and personal safety skills. Not all officers will be suitable for this type of work; however, many public safety officers are well-versed in personal defense. People tend to trust someone with experience working daily in a position where they always need to defend themselves. Unlike some, officers know what type of defense is legal and realistic for the average person.
- Prison security
Unfortunately, there are high numbers of incarcerated individuals. Prisons regularly need officers to guard and escort prisoners, among other duties. The prison system can be challenging, especially if you work at a high-security prison for violent offenders.
- Border patrol and customs
If you live near, or are willing to live near, national borders, then there are many opportunities with the border patrol and customs areas. Customs is a great position for those who like to meet many people and connect well with others. Border patrol is better for those who like to be in the field and not behind a desk. Border positions can be more dangerous than other public safety jobs due to the high volumes of smuggling, illegal immigration, and more.
- Parole officer
Parole officers work with adults or juveniles that have been convicted of a crime. A parole officer offers support and guidance, with the ultimate goal being that their parolees fulfill the agreed-on terms of their parole and do not re-offend. Parole officers report those breaking their parole agreements to authorities so an official arrest warrant can be issued. Parole officers do not arrest anyone themselves. Officers typically work in an office and desk position but may sometimes have to appear in court.
- Victim advocate
Public safety means working with victims from different backgrounds. Victim advocates help crime victims and their families heal and recover. This can involve helping them find safe and convenient housing, protecting them from the offender and any associates, finding financial resources during recovery, and understanding what services and resources they are legally entitled to. Victim advocates can point victims toward free or affordable counseling and support services as well.
Public safety is an excellent career choice for those that want an exciting job with a lot of room for growth. While the job may be quite challenging, it is rewarding because, at the end of the day, you know that you have helped keep people safe and secure.
Becoming a public safety officer takes a little time but it is something that can be done while still working another job. Over the next decade, the large demand for qualified public safety officials will continue.